Soon after D-Day in 1944, Westporter Bob Loomis — a gun sergeant — was In Marigny-le-Louzon. The Normandy town is just 25 miles from Utah Beach.
A couple of weeks later another Westporter — heavy machine gunner Clay Chalfant — moved through Marigny with his company on their way to Belgium.
When the war ended, Charlotte MacLear — head of the French department at Staples High School, and a graduate of prestigious Sorbonne Université — sparked a campaign to “officially adopt Marigny” and help its recovery.
Our town sent clothes, money and Christmas gifts, thanks to fundraising that included selling toys and buckets with designs painted by Westport artists.
In return, Marigny created the “Westport School Canteen,” and named the town’s largest square “Place Westport.” MacLear visited our sister town 3 times. Each time, she was honored and adored.
Pharmacie Westport. As the blue plaque notes, it is located at Place Westport.
We forgot the relationship. Marigny never did.
In June 1994 — as part of the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy — town officials invited 3 Westport middle school students and 2 Westport veterans to stay in the homes of residents. They visited “Westport Gift Shop” and “Pharmacie Westport.”
Pharmacie Westport. As the plaque on the side notes, it is on “Place Westport.” Charlotte MacLear was asked where she wanted it to be. She chose the main square, in front of Town Hall.
The 2 veterans were, of course, Loomis and Chalfant.
Once again, Westport’s memory faded. But a couple of years ago, Marigny residents — some of whom had been the recipients, three-quarters of a century ago, of Westporters’ Christmas gifts — honored the founder of that on-again, off-again sister city relationship.
In May of 2022, a meeting room in their town hall was renamed “Salle Charlotte MacLear.”
The “Charlotte MacLear Room,” in Marigny’s town hall.
First Selectwoman Jen Tooker and I took part in that Zoom ceremony, early on a Sunday morning here. After the formalities, as we prepared to say adieu, one of our French friends remarked, almost off-handedly, that both Westport and Marigny should both do the same thing that our down had once done for theirs — this time, in Ukraine.
At that time, the Soviet invasion was less than 3 months old.
Coincidentally, a pair of Westport brothers — Brian and Marshall Mayer — had recently founded Ukraine Aid International. It was a boots-on-the-ground, get-things-done non-profit.
Thanks to the Mayers’ problem-solving skills, organizational know-how and energy, UAI ensured that supplies, goods, food and more was actually reaching Ukrainians in need — not sitting in warehouses, or diverted elsewhere.
When Tooker met Brian Mayer, she mentioned the sister city idea. He had had the exact same thought.
Brian went looking for a town around our size. He found Lyman. Located in the Donetsk region, and an important rail center, it had suffered greatly from Russian attacks. Apartments, schools, the police station — all were in bad shape.
In just 3 weeks around the holidays, Westporters raised $252,000 for our new sister city. In July, we added $50,000 more (thanks in part to raffle items sent from Marigny).
Funds paid for building supplies, communications equipment, bulletproof vests for utility workers, generators, police and sanitation vehicles, meals, holiday gifts for children, and more.
Westport students sent cards and letters.
Meanwhile, Marigny has begun collecting gifts for Lyman’s children for the upcoming holiday — just as Westport did, from 1947 to 1965.
The presents include sister city sweatshirts, toys, and French candies, sweets and chocolates.
The men and women Marshall spoke to who received gifts from Westport said they remember the candy the most.
Marigny’s gifts will be shipped soon.
A local newspaper covers Marigny’s upcoming holiday gift shipment to Lyman.
The Westport-Marigny-Lyman sister cities connection means a lot to all 3 towns.
Now, Marshall Mayer has tightened the bonds even further.
The Ukraine Aid International co-founder and his wife Ebru just returned from overseas. They made an important side trip, to Marigny.
Marshall Mayer (front, 2nd from left), with the Marigny Welcoming Committee.
“This town is Lyman, 80 years from now,” Marshall reports.
“Descendants of a people attacked, they rebuilt a town that had been 70% destroyed.
“They understand what Lyman is going through. It’s part of their history too.”
Westport churches raised money to pay for stained glass, in a destroyed Marigny church.
“It’s hard to understand the impact that Westport has had on the residents of Marigny,” Marshall says. “We gave gifts and money. But they impacted real people, whose entire lives have been shaped by these acts of kindness.”
Marshall and Ebru met the daughter and granddaughter of an original committee member.
The granddaughter — just 6 weeks old — is named Charlotte. Her name honors the founder of the Westport-Marigny relationship.
Marigny officials show Marshall Mayer (2nd from left) a book about the relationship between their town and Westport. René Gautier, president of the Marigny-Westport association, is at the far right.
Marshall looks forward to a big victory party in Lyman — with representative from Westport and Marigny — when victory is finally achieved.
Meanwhile, a woman in Marigny is planning a trip to New York this spring. She hopes to include Westport on her visit.
(Marigny — a town of less than 3,000 — has raised enough funds for gifts for 300 Lyman children. There are now about 700 kids there. The cost to cover those 400 gifts is about $12,000. Westport: Let’s help! Click here to contribute, through Ukraine Aid International.. Under “Designation,” click the dropdown menu and select “Westport — Lyman Sister City.”)
Marshall Mayer’s Marigny hosts points to themselves, in a photo of themselves as children receiving gifts from Westport. (All photos courtesy of Marshall Mayer)